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Little Conductors brings train retail, rental and fun to Chelsea

For the last year Heidi Langenferser and her husband have been renting out their own, homemade trackless train for parties and festivals. As they grew their offerings to include pedal train cars, the pair decided it was time to open a storefront and continue to grow their business. Little Conductors, which opened last week in Chelsea's Oak Tree Plaza, now offers both train rentals and retail. 
"We sort of started going in this direction with the train rentals and though it was a cool idea," says Langenferser. "We live in Chelsea and thought this was would be a nice place, right next to the freeway."
The 800-square-foot store opened on March 1 after four to five months of locating the right real estate and renovating the space. In addition to the pedal trains and the trackless train built by Lagenferser's husband, Little Conductors offers rentals on train tables for toddlers, Thomas the Train play equipment, as well as train toys and accessories for sale.
"We're getting positive feedback," Langenferser says. "People are liking the place."
Little Conductors is currently staffed by Langenferser and her husband. Eventually, they plan to grow into a larger space to include a play area. 

Source: Heidi Langenferser, Little Conductors
Writer: Natalie Burg

The customer is king at new Syrian restaurant, Damas

Syria native Jawad Seif may be the owner of the new Damas Restaurant in Woodland Plaza on S. Main St., but he leaves no room for doubt who his boss is. 
"The customer is the king," says Seif. "Any customer only has to pay if he likes the food. I'm looking to have a customer that trusts me, and I trust them every time."
After moving to Ann Arbor from Syria just a year and a half ago, Seif opened Damas Restaurant on Feb. 17. His Mediterranean style includes the hummus, chicken shawarma and falafel diners expect, as well as specialty items, such as stuffed zucchini and okra with rice. All of his foods, Sief says, will have freshness in common. 
"The rule here is that everything must be fresh. Every morning we have new ingredients," Seif says. "I'm happy because most of the customers say it's the best Mediterranean food in Ann Arbor."
For Seif, Ann Arbor was the perfect place to open his restaurant, as he says the community loves Mediterranean food and has made his family feel welcome from the first day they arrived. 
The 1,800-square-foot restaurant seats 40 and employs a staff of six. Seif decorated Damas himself with decor reminiscent of Syria. 

Source: Jawad Seif, Damas Restaurant
Writer: Natalie Burg

New 12,000 sq ft Blake Transit Center kicks off opening on March 17

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, or TheRide, will open its new, 12,019-square-foot, LEED Gold-certified Blake Transit Center to the public on Monday. After breaking ground in late 2012, TheRide says the completed building will offer a larger customer service lobby, improved restrooms and digital signage featuring real-time route information.

"Staff, including myself, who have toured the new building are impressed with the new space, and believe it will be a welcoming, comfortable, convenient, and safe place for riders," says Don Kline, integrated marketing coordinator for TheRide. "Early reactions from the public we’ve spoken to have been very positive." 

Monday will be a soft launch for the Blake Transit Center, as the lane buses will eventually use adjacent to the center won't be finished until the ground completely thaws. A grand opening event will be scheduled at that time. Next week, light refreshments and customer service staff will be available to the public to kick off the opening. 

Kline says the long term goal of the new Blake Transit Center will be to accommodate TheRide's growing ridership, which has increased by more than 80 percent since the former transit center was built in the 1980s.

"We are continuing to focus on improving connectivity in our urban core communities that in turn improves our economy, environment, and quality of life," he says. 

Next up for the ever-evolving organization will be a May 6 vote on TheRide's Five-Year Transit Improvement Plan, "TheRide Your Way." In 2013, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township were officially added to the TheRide organization.

Source: Don Kline, TheRide
Writer: Natalie Burg

Carrabba's, Five Guys and more coming to Ann Arbor-Saline Rd.

A slew of national chains including Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Subway, Sport Clips and others will soon be part of Pittsfield Place, a 12-business restaurant and retail development that is scheduled to break ground later this month. 

According to Landmark Commercial Real Estate's Michael Lippitt, who is marketing the spaces, the Ann Arbor-Saline Rd. location is ideal for the project. 

"Pittsfield Place is strategically located in front of a very long-established and high-volume Meijer," says Lippett. "The surrounding retailers are some of the highest-volume stores in all of Southeast Michigan. And the market, if you compare it to the rest of Southeast Michigan, is underserved." 

The project, which is being developed by Versa in Southfield, is divided into two phases. The first, which will include eight restaurant and retail spaces, is set to break ground this month with businesses, including Carrabba's, opening by the end of the year. About 6,500 square feet of commercial space is still available in Phase I. 

All properties in Phase II have been spoken for, and construction is scheduled for completion in 2015.

"The economy is very good and leasing is very strong," Lippitt says. "Support from the township was very strong, and Meijer was very interested. All of the moon and stars aligned at the right time."

The 6.4 acres of land on which Pittsfield Place will be developed was purchased from Meijer. The development will sit between Lohr Rd. and Oak Valley Drive on Ann Arbor-Saline Rd. with parking in the rear. 

Source: Michael Lippitt, Landmark Commercial Real Estate Services
Writer: Natalie Burg

Diva Nails to open on Maple, two more locations planned

Business is booming for Diva Nails. The Arborland nail spa is preparing to open its second location next to Plum Market on Maple Rd. next week, and is already planning a third in Northville while scoping out Troy for a fourth Diva Nails. 
"The one in Arborland is very successful now," says Diva Nails owner Frank Dinh. "I have a different way to run the nail business. We do very very high quality work, and we'll do even more high quality at the new spa."
After about eight months of renovations, the Maple Rd. location looks set to meet those expectations for quality. The lavish decor includes chandeliers and upscale tile. In addition to manicure and pedicure areas, the 5,000 square foot spa will also include a bar area. 
"We are waiting for the beer and wine license," says Dinh. "But we would like to serve beer and wine for the pedicure clients."
Final work on the new Diva Nails will complete in the next week. Dinh will employ a staff of 10 initially, and expects to grow that number as the spa's clientele increases. His Northville location does not have a open date yet, but Dinh says he expects it to be ready for business soon.

Source: Frank Dinh, Diva Nails
Writer: Natalie Burg

$12M Kingsley Lane Condos could add up to 21 units to downtown

The demand to live near downtown Ann Arbor could be fed a bit more with the proposed Kingsley Lane Condos. The long-delayed project has been been submitted to the Ann Arbor Design Review Board. Currently, the development plans include 21 units, but that could change based on the demands of prospective tenants. 
"We started out with an average unit size of 1,000 to 1,100 square feet, but we've already started talking to people about combining units," says Tom Fitzsimmons of Huron Contracting, who is working with developers Peter Allen, Mark Berg. "We've been contacted by about ten people so far. People are interested in larger units."
Regardless of how many units it will ultimately contain, the approximately $12 million project will be about 40,000 square feet and include two new buildings and an existing structure on Kingsley Lane. The goal of the project, says Fitzsimmons, is to build the kind of space people are looking for.
"We're trying to make nice spaces people are comfortable in, so that includes large decks, balconies, lots of indoor and outdoor space and nice master suites," he says. 
If the plan moves forward as planned, Fitzsimmons hopes the Ann Arbor City Council will approve that project in August, and construction would begin immediately. He expects the Kingsley Lane Condo project would then be completed by late 2015.  

Source: Tom Fitzsimmons, Huron Contracting
Writer: Natalie Burg

Ypsi's Harvest Moon Cafe builds new bar, adds staff

After 28 years in business, the Harvest Moon Cafe in Ypsilanti was in need of some renovations. While the family owned restaurant was at it, they decided to add a full bar and expand their hours. 

"It came about from customers asking for cocktails," says owner Pauline Tzavaras. "We've always had beer and wine, but we didn't have the space to do any cocktails."

After four weeks of renovation, that is no longer the case. Harvest Moon Cafe now includes a full, eight-stool bar. In addition to adding the bar and the complete kitchen renovation, the restaurant, which re-opened about a month ago, now has expanded hours and a menu featuring the return of some customer favorites from the past. 

"We want to be known as a neighborhood bar, but still concentrating on our homestyle food," Tzavaras says. "We've had a great response. We're getting busier and busier."

To accommodate the bar and expanded hours, three new employees have been hired, bringing the Harvest Moon Cafe staff up to 24 workers.

Source: Pauline Tzavaras, Harvest Moon Cafe
Writer: Natalie Burg

Painting with a Twist studio to open on Oak Valley Drive

Letitia Tenner began her career with Painting with a Twist from the ground up. Originally project manager in the IT services industry, Tenner's first experience with the "paint and sip" franchise was a customer in Farmington. After falling in love with the concept, she decided to open her own Painting with a Twist in Ann Arbor. 

"Although there are other art entertainment business out there, I knew that I wanted to be a franchise partner with Painting with a Twist," says Tenner, who was impressed by Entrepreneur Magazine endorsing the company as the #1 Paint & Sip in the country. "Additionally, the founders are very passionate about community give-back and it's a part of the culture of this business via the Painting with a Purpose program."

 The 2,400 square foot studio will celebrate its grand opening the weekend of April 10 in the Village Centre on Oak Valley Dr. in Pittsfield Twp. Renovations on the space began in mid-January and included opening up the formerly segmented space into two large studios. 

"[I] wanted a nice large window storefront so that people visiting neighboring businesses could observe our art sessions while they're in progress," says Tenner. "I met with representatives from Pittsfield Township and they were enthusiastic about our business concept."

Tenner expects to hire a staff of 10, including artists, art assistants and office staff. She is looking forward to participating in the company's Painting with a Purpose initiative, during which the studio will partner with local non-profits to host events that will benefit the organizations. 

Source: Letitia Tenner, Painting with a Twist
Writer: Natalie Burg

Public health partnership bringing affordable dental clinic to Washtenaw County

Keeping up with proper dental care can be nearly impossible for low-income residents. Though covered by Medicaid, low reimbursements to dentists prevent many clinics from accepting the program, leaving many to skip preventive care altogether. With the recent Medicaid expansion, the demand for dental care in this underserved demographic is about to grow. 
Thanks to a new partnership between Washtenaw County Public Health and Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, the Washtenaw County Dental Clinic will begin to address that need in 2015.
"We're really excited about the clinic because it is going to provide service to some of the most vulnerable people in our community," says acting health officer Ellen Rabinowitz. "This has always been a huge need."
Should all move ahead as planned, the Washtenaw County Dental Clinic will open Jan. 2, 2015. The 11-chair office will serve a about 6,000 patients each year with an estimated15,000 clinic visits. It will be located in Ypsilanti's Haab Building on N. Huron St., thanks to St. Joseph Mercy Health System's donation of space. 
The clinic, says Rabinowitz, "is very much a partnership project." In addition to St. Joe's, the Washtenaw Health Plan and Michigan Community Dental Clinics are partners in the project, supplying funds and contracting with the clinic for staffing, respectively. All told, the clinic is expected to cost $1.2 million initially, all of which is planned to be reimbursed to the county by the operations of the cost-neutral project.
Source: Ellen Rabinowitz, Washtenaw County
Writer: Natalie Burg

Tomukun Noodle Bar expanding on success with Korean barbeque next door

Growing up as a Korean American in Troy, going out for Korean barbecue with his family was a big part of Tom Yon's upbringing. With the success of his four-year-old Tomukun Noodle Bar on a roll in downtown Ann Arbor, he's now bringing that tradition to E. Liberty as well with Tomukun Korean BBQ. 
"I thought that Korean barbecue would be a great idea," Yon says. "It's something that's very close to me, close to my heart."
When Grand Traverse Pie Company closed in the building next door to his noodle bar, Yon says he knew the opportunity was right to bring the Korean barbecue experience to downtown. The dining concept allows customers to chose their own raw meat and grill it, with the assistance of servers, right at their own table. While some Korean barbecue restaurants are more formal, Yon says Tomukun Korean BBQ will be contemporary and modern. 
"It's a lot more casual, a lot more minimalistic," he says. "It will be a place for friends, drinking beer and drinking soju. It's kind like a Korean barbecue/bar." 
The 3,150 square foot space has undergone considerable renovation to install the individual grills at each table. The new restaurant will seat about 85 guests between the dining area and bar. Yon anticipates opening at the beginning of April with a staff of about 30 employees.

Source: Tom Yon, Tomukun Korean Barbeque
Writer: Natalie Burg

Proposed $12.5M project could bring 90 affordable rentals to Ypsilanti

If a proposed housing project for Ypsilanti's Water Street property moves forward, construction on 90 new affordable rental units could begin in March of 2015 and be open for tenants the following year. The proposal, made by Herman Kittle Properties would place the $12.5 million development project in a key area of Water Street redevelopment area. 
"This puts a nice development on the river and it builds the spine we need there. Any other future projects will now have the utilities already there," says Ypsilanti City Planner Teresa Gillotti. "Also, that particular location is on some very difficult-to-build land. We weren't even sure if this site was going to be able to be built out."
By building the project on piers, however, the proposed plan would make the site able to be developed. The 90 rental units would include one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom units, available to residents at 50 to 60 percent of the area median income for Washtenaw County, which is currently $59,063, a value that varied depending upon household size.
According to Gillotti, the timing for such a project is good, as demand for affordable rentals is on the rise. 
"After the housing market crashed, everything stopped, especially for construction," she says, "but what we have seen are rentals really taking off in the last year to year-and-a-half. The demand has gone up."
Before becoming a reality, the housing project must first be approved by Ypsilanti City Council, which will hold a public hearing in March. Then, an application for a Michigan State Housing Development Authority tax credit must be approved in July. Gillotti says the city welcomes the public's input on the project. 

Source: Teresa Gillotti, City of Ypsilanti
Writer: Natalie Burg

Unique mind-body fitness studio coming to Jackson Rd.

A new concept in fitness is coming to Ann Arbor. As people have become more aware of exercise being one part of overall wellness, trainer Elaine Economou wanted to give her clients a place to go for every aspect of their health. After about a year of planning, she and partner Robin Krienke will be opening Move on Jackson Rd. with the aim of doing exactly that. 
"Once people start making changes and start feeling better in their bodies, they start asking themselves, 'What else can I do?'" says Economou. "They start to think more carefully about what they eat, what they wear, what kind of skin products they use." 
Move, which is slated to open March 10, will offer clients guidance on all of those questions. The fitness center will offer personal training, group classes, as well as massage, a juice bar and retail area. 
Formerly Expressions Design Studio, the 2,800 square foot space has been thoroughly renovated, including the addition of bathrooms with lockers and showers, the creation of separate rooms for training, massage and group classes, as well as loft-style storage. The Jackson Rd. location, Economou says, was perfect for her clientele. 
"The west side of Ann Arbor really appealed to me," she says. "It's an up and coming corridor. I train clients in Chelsea, Dexter, Saline and a lot of clients in Ann Arbor, so I was very clear about wanting to be on that corridor."
Move will open with a staff of about 25. According to Economou, the studio will welcome clients of all fitness levels, from experiences athletes to those just beginning to improve their wellness.

Source: Elaine Economou, Move
Writer: Natalie Burg

Total Hockey opens 9,500 sq ft store on Oak Valley Dr.

Missouri-based retailer Total Hockey celebrated the opening of their new Ann Arbor location this week, the company's third in Michigan. The 9,500 square foot store is located in the Oak Valley Center near Target. 

"In general there are a lot of factors that go into the real estate selection process, but certainly proximity to an ice rink is definitely on the checklist," says Total Hockey Marketing Manager Andrea Roewe. "We like to be convenient enough for people to stop in on the way to or after a game."

The new location is Total Hockey twentieth store nationwide, and the retailer has continued expansion plans. The store focuses entirely on hockey and includes both memorabilia and equipment for hockey players at a range of price points. 

"We have a price range for everyone, whether you're a high-end player looking for the latest and greatest, or for newbies, we have everything to help get parents acclimated to the game," Roewe says.

The new Total Hockey store opened on Monday and employs a staff of 15-20 workers. Total Hockey has a particular focus on youth players and in involved in programs that help young players take part in the sport.

Source: Andrea Roewe, Total Hockey
Writer: Natalie Burg

Heritage Collision and Frame grow into second location

Ypsilanti's Heritage Collision & Frame is expanding to a new location. The new Scio Township location will double the family business in both size and staff. 

"We'll have more space to get cars done more effectively and more efficiently," says Mike Berczel, manager of Heritage Collision & Frame. "We've reached capacity here, and are basically at the breaking point."

That capacity is set to double when the approximately 6,500 square foot Jackson Rd. shop opens in early summer. Renovations to the space are now underway, and will include the removal of walls, updates to the office area and state of the art equipment.

According to Berczel, the key to the business' growth that has led to the need to expand has been a commitment to maintaining the atmosphere of a family company.

"We have a family feel," he says. "You're going to get a good experience here. You're going to get honest, up front service."

The current Heritage Collision & Frame shop, located on Carpenter Rd., employs a staff of about ten employees. Berczel says the new shop will begin with fewer workers, but will eventually employ the same number of employees, doubling the business' total staff. 

Source: Mike Berczel, Heritage Collision and Frame
Writer: Natalie Burg

Thingsmiths bring 3D printing services to S. State St.

Nearly everyone has had a thought, at one time or another, that began, "Wouldn't it be cool if someone made a thing like this?" If the entrepreneurs of Thingsmiths have their way, those fleeting thoughts will never again have to trail off into nowhere. Thanks to their 3D-printing on demand service, they plan to help anyone make whatever they can dream up.

"The aim with Thingsmiths is to build a company where anyone can go to have nearly anything made," says Owen Tien of Thingsmiths. "I believe that in the very near future service bureaus such as ours will be in every city, fundamentally changing the way people look at the means of production, and how we all do business."

That big vision is beginning with a small, 200 square foot space on S. State St. that opened as Thingsmiths in late 2013. The staff works with any customer's idea for an object, creates the design and prints the item for them. Tien says Ann Arbor was the perfect location to start such a business, as the community is full of "creative and curious people." Thus far, their customers orders and ideas have not disappointed.

"The response has been really fantastic," says Tien. "You don't open a business without being optimistic, but I would consider myself cautiously so. It's blown away my expectations, and I've felt very fortunate to be able to help so many people get their idea made."

Thingsmiths currently employs a staff of three. Tien says the shop is the first "truly consumer-oriented brick-and-mortar retail 3D printing store" in the state.

Source: Owen Tien, Thingsmiths
Writer: Natalie Burg
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